The Political Report – February 15, 2023

Public Policy Polling: “On the heels of a successful State of the Union address last week Joe Biden has some of the best numbers of his Presidency, with almost as many voters (44%) now approving of the job he’s doing as disapprove (47%). Biden leads all of his leading potential Republican opponents for re-election. It’s 47-44 over Ron DeSantis, 49-45 against Donald Trump, 45-39 versus Nikki Haley, and 47-39 matched up with Mike Pence.”

“The 4 point lead over Trump is notably similar to the 2020 outcome between them and speaks to the political climate being in a relatively similar place to where it has been over the last few years. Of course that still means a close race in the key Electoral College states would be likely in a Biden-Trump rematch, but Biden’s standing has not meaningfully slipped relative to 2020.”

“Our poll also finds that Democrats would be better off running Biden again than they would be with any of the best known alternatives to him in the party.”

A new Politico/Morning Consult poll finds that 54% of voters say that when members of Congress disagree with the president’s State of the Union address, they should stay silent.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis “is said to be looking at a late May or early June entrance if he runs,” the New York Times reports.

Nate Cohn: “Mr. DeSantis will probably need to be a relatively strong campaigner and debater to survive against made-for-television Mr. Trump. But the burden on him will nonetheless be quite a bit less than it was for Mr. Walker, who needed to impress voters, activists and donors to earn the support and attention that Mr. DeSantis already has in his possession. He has done the hard part already.”

New York Times: “For months, Mr. DeSantis has pursued a strategy of conflict avoidance with his top rival in the shadow 2024 Republican presidential primary, delaying what is likely to be a hostile and divisive clash that forces the party’s voters to pick sides.”

“But now he faces the pressing question of how long this approach can work. Mr. Trump, who has spent weeks trying to goad Mr. DeSantis into a fight with rude nicknames like ‘Ron DeSanctimonious,’ is stepping up his social media-fueled assault, even as polls and interviews show that Mr. DeSantis has become the leading alternative to the former president for many voters and donors.”

“Mr. DeSantis must also decide just how forcefully to counterattack once he engages with Mr. Trump, and whether he has left himself enough room to effectively parry the former president’s taunts and smears without offending his loyal supporters.”

Insider: “As a congressional candidate, DeSantis repeatedly expressed support for Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed overhaul to entitlement programs by privatizing aspects of Medicare and Social Security, as CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck uncovered earlier this week.”

“Congressman DeSantis went even further than that position. As Josh Barro wrote, DeSantis supported the even more drastic Republican Study Committee’s budget proposal that aimed to balance the federal budget in four years, instead of Ryan’s decade. To achieve such cuts, as the Committee for the Responsible Budget detailed back then, required changing Medicare to a partially private system by 2019 and raising the retirement age to 70. It would have also increased the full retirement age for Social Security to 70 as well.”

“It’s a really tough situation for DeSantis. If he starts punching at Trump, he’s going to anger a lot of the people he needs to vote for him. But if you are viewed as weak and cower in response to attacks from Trump, that will be seen as a proxy for how you will be seen as a Republican nominee and how you’ll be as president.” — Democratic strategist Tommy Vietor, quoted by the New York Times.

Donald Trump “has insulted Mr. DeSantis in casual conversations, describing him as ‘Meatball Ron’, an apparent dig at his appearance, or ‘Shutdown Ron,’ a reference to restrictions the governor put in place at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic,” the New York Times reports.

Nikki Haley, who served as U.N. ambassador and governor of South Carolina, announced Tuesday that she is running for president, becoming the first major rival to officially challenge Donald Trump for the GOP nomination in 2024, the Washington Post reports.

Said Haley, in a video: “It’s time for a new generation of leadership.”

Stuart Stevens: “No political figure better illustrates the tragic collapse of the modern Republican Party than Nikki Haley. There was a time not very long ago when she was everything the party thought it needed to win. She was a woman when the party needed more women, a daughter of immigrants when the party needed more immigrants, a young changemaker when the party needed younger voters, and a symbol of tolerance who took down the Confederate flag when the party needed more people of color and educated suburbanites.”

“Then she threw it all away.”

Vivek Ramaswamy (R) is exploring a dark horse bid for president, “testing, among other things, whether his warnings about the dangers of ‘wokeism’ and socially-responsible investing — in business vernacular what’s called environmental, social and governance investing — has political currency with Republican politicians, business leaders and, yes, farmers,” Politico reports.

“Ramaswamy has a theory for how this will all go. He wants to pull off what Donald Trump did in 2016: enter the race with an entrepreneurial spirit, unorthodox ideas, and few expectations, and end up developing a major following that will carry him to the presidency — even if it seems like a long shot at the moment.”

MONTANA U.S. SENATOR. The Political Company, a Republican firm run by a former campaign manager for Gov. Greg Gianforte, has released a survey testing Democratic Sen. Jon Tester against a trio of Republicans:

  • 46-40 vs. Rep. Ryan Zinke
  • 45-40 vs. Rep. Matt Rosendale
  • 45-45 vs. Gov. Greg Gianforte

This is the first survey we’ve seen from this pollster.

Zinke and Rosendale have both been making noises about running against Tester, who has yet to confirm his own 2024 plans, while Gianforte’s name has come up much less often. The governor’s spokesperson, though, wouldn’t reveal if his boss was looking at the contest when asked just before Thanksgiving, merely saying that Gianforte was focused on the upcoming legislative session.

We haven’t heard anything since then about a possible Senate bid for Gianforte, who is also up for re-election in 2024. According to Ballotpedia, the legislative session he was so focused on will end in mid-May.

MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR. The Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund has conducted a late-January survey from the Democratic firm Tulchin Research that included a question on the race for governor, and it showed Democrat Brandon Presley with a 47-43 lead over Republican incumbent Tate Reeves. The only other survey we’ve seen here was a Siena College poll for Mississippi Today, and it put Reeves up 43-39 in this dark red state. Neither of those polls included Gwendolyn Gray, an independent who could keep either Reeves or Pressley from taking the majority they’d need to avert a runoff.

HOUSTON MAYOR. Houston City Councilman Robert Gallegos, who would be the Bayou City’s first-ever Latino mayor, announced Thursday that he was joining this November’s nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out incumbent Sylvester Turner, but an even more prominent Democrat also appears to be eyeing the race. An unreleased poll from earlier this month tested Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee as a possible contender, and while she hasn’t said anything publicly about running, longtime political writer Charles Kuffner says her campaign is indeed surveying the race.

Kuffner writes that he learned this because he himself was sampled, and he made sure to ask who was behind the poll at the very end. The filing deadline isn’t until late August, and a prominent figure like Jackson Lee may be able to afford to wait a while before deciding if she wants to get in; Jackson Lee would not need to sacrifice her safely blue House seat, though, if she decided to seek the post this year. The field may expand no matter what the congresswoman does, as the Houston Chronicle’s Dylan McGuinness says that bond investor Gilbert Garcia, who is the former head of the local public transit authority METRO, is “expected” to run himself.  

Gallegos, for his part, is the only gay member of the City Council, and his win would make Houston the largest city to ever elect a gay Latino mayor; Gallegos would also be the city’s second-ever LGBTQ leader after Annise Parker, who served from 2010 to 2016. The city councilman has just $134,000 on hand in his campaign account, though, and he acknowledges, “I’m going to be spending a lot of time making [fundraising] calls.”

Four other serious candidates were already running: former City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, former Harris County interim clerk Chris Hollins, attorney Lee Kaplan, and state Sen. John Whitmire. Edwards, Hollins, and Kaplan each have about $1 million to spend. However, no one knows yet how much of Whitmire’s $10.1 million war chest, which includes money he raised to run for the state legislature, he’ll be able to put to use in this race. A runoff would take place should no one earn a majority in November.

P.S. While either Gallegos or Garcia would be Houston’s first Latino mayor, they wouldn’t quite be its inaugural Hispanic leader. McGuinness notes that Joseph Pastoriza, whose parents were Spanish immigrants, was elected in 1917; Pastoriza died a few months later, and no other Hispanic politicians have won since.

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT. Progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz is airing her first TV attack ad ahead of the Feb. 21 primary for Wisconsin’s open Supreme Court seat, hitting both of her conservative opponents in the same spot. The ad begins by defending Protasiewicz, who recently has been the target of negative ads, saying she’s “spent 25 years as a prosecutor locking up dangerous criminals,” then pivots to criticize work her rivals performed as defense attorneys (one of our least favorite tactics).

“Extremist Jennifer Dorow? As a private attorney, she got rich defending predators for child sex crimes and pornography,” says the narrator as an archival screenshot of her former law firm’s website appears, showing a list of “child sex crime accusations” that the firm offered to defend against. “Dan Kelly?” the voiceover continues. “He defended child molesters posing as youth ministers.” Protasiewicz’s campaign says that its total statewide media buy now stands at $1.25 million, up from $1 million just a few days earlier.

“Former President Donald Trump faces a unique limitation that is enticing to both his 2024 GOP rivals and Republicans who hope to be his running mate: He’s eligible to serve only one more term,” NBC News reports.

“That’s because the Constitution prohibits a person from being elected president more than twice.”

“For two days, Kari Lake traversed this state with a clear message. She falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. She baselessly insisted that votes were rigged against her in her run for Arizona governor last year. And she warned without evidence that future races will be compromised,” the Washington Post reports.

Said Lake: “If you lose, lose with dignity. You shake the other person’s hand and walk away. I didn’t lose, so I’m not doing that.”

Associated Press: “Black voters said they are tired of the countless hurdles that disproportionately try to keep them from being heard at the ballot box. Voters said their experiences with the GOP have been as voices to silence, not to win over.”

Seth Masket: “Jared Polis and Ron DeSantis are like two peas in a pod. Both are relatively popular second-term governors in their mid-40s. Both somehow won reelection last November by 19 points in states that, less than a decade ago, were considered swing states. And both (probably) have their eyes on the White House.”

“Given similar circumstances and similar political goals, we’d expect them to behave, well, similarly, right? Except for one thing: Polis is a Democrat and DeSantis is a Republican. And this makes all the difference.”

VERMONT U.S. SENATOR. Sen. Bernie Sanders told the New York Times that people wondering about if he’ll seek a fourth term next year should “keep wondering.” The Democratic-aligned independent, when asked why, merely said, “Because I’ve just told you, and this is very serious … If you think about my record, I take this job seriously. The purpose of elections is to elect people to do work, not to keep talking about elections.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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